Gap Closes 1969 Design Studio in Los Angeles

Downtown LA

As of Thursday, February 6, 2014

When The Gap Inc. opened its artsy denim design studio in the heart of downtown Los Angeles nearly four years ago, the company later went on a big media campaign touting the creative spirit wrapped up in the new locale.

But the San Francisco–based retail and apparel giant has been relatively low key about its decision to shutter the loft-like space, where designers worked on the company’s 1969 brand, named for the year the company was founded.

Gap executives said the studio officially closed Feb. 1, which is the end of Gap’s fiscal 2013 year. But many designers had already moved to New York, where all the creative work is being done now for the 1969 label, which launched in 2009 with prices that hover around the $69.50 mark.

“The LA market remains important to the denim industry, and we’ll have eyes in the market to ensure we’re on top of emerging trends,” Gap said in a statement issued on Feb. 5. “Today, we have a centralized, global design approach and powerful creative engine based in New York.”

Although the 5,400-square-foot studio opened in an old brick building on West Pico Boulevard and Olive Street in 2010, near the Los Angeles Fashion District, the company didn’t make much noise about its existence until the summer of 2011.

Then Gap launched a big public relations and media blitz touting the creative spirit being generated inside the building, where, according to a press release, “the 1969 studio feels like the personal atelier of a denim architect, not the headquarters of a global brand.”

It was noted that the structure used to house a cigar factory. “This Gap denim epicenter is an ever-changing canvas for ideas,” the press release explained, “featuring art books, mood boards, vintage buttons, Japanese work-wear catalogues and back issues of surfer magazines set against a backdrop of sun-filled, floor-to-ceiling bay windows.”

The establishment of a gritty design studio near LA’s fashion district was intended to boost the authenticity of the trend-driven 1969 brand, which was competing with more Los Angeles–centric brands such as True Religion, 7 For All Mankind and Joe’s Jeans.

But apparently the experiment didn’t work out in a section of downtown that is being inundated with new restaurants, hotels and apartment buildings. “If Gap didn’t get out of these designers any kind of new direction, I don’t doubt they closed it,” said Ilse Metchek, president of the California Fashion Association, whose members are apparel manufacturers, retailers, finance people and legal experts. “So I don’t blame them for closing what is now a very, very expensive piece of property.”

Denim designer Adriano Goldschmied, who is a partner and executive vice president of product development at Citizens of Humanity, a Los Angeles premium-denim maker, was sad to see another design source close its doors. “I believe the engine of our business is design, so this is not good news,” said the Italian, who designed the very first 1969 jeans in 1999 to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Gap Inc. The premium jeans, which sold for $98, were out for only one year before being revived in 2009. “I am sure this means they have a stronger design team in New York to support the line.”

Gap Inc.—whose retail nameplates are Gap, Banana Republic, Old Navy, Athleta, Piperlime and Intermix—reported that its same-store sales for the holiday season in November and December were up 1 percent. In fiscal 2012, the company had revenues of $15.65 billion, up from $14.5 billion in fiscal 2011.